Project Management

Smooth Communication with and within your Team

We often hear that communication is key for solving all kind of issues or misunderstandings, in both private and business relationships. And yet why is it still so difficult to practice an effective communication without any misunderstandings, frustration or offence?

Communication and language are deeply interconnected, as language serves as the primary tool for conveying information, thoughts, and emotions. Communication with or within your team might be easier when you speak the same language. However, there can still be misunderstandings if you are speaking the same language, but you are from another country, such as English-speakers from the USA versus from the UK or Spanish-speakers from Spain versus from South America. This also applies if you are not a native speaker and you use words or a tone that are considered rude or violent without having this intention. In my experience, misunderstandings even happen if you are from the same region. Nobody is really safe from being misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Another aspect is that different functional areas have specialized terms that may be different to understand or explain in a multidisciplinary setting. Functional specialities use a lot of abbreviations and acronyms. For example, Marketing uses acronyms like CRM, ABM, CLV, A/B testing, and technical people use terms like CI/CD, DevOps, ML, BI.  Also, technical people may attempt to answer questions with many technical details when you just wanted a yes or no answer.

Further, non-verbal cues can often convey emotions and attitudes more powerfully than words alone. We might also not be able to interpret the non-verbal or circumstantial signs in the way the speaker intended to communicate. Being able to interpret the non-verbal signs is easier if you meet with the team in person. If you are meeting online, it’s really difficult to see all the signs. Only if somebody rolls their eyes in front of the webcam, it is clear to interpret their mood.

Besides the non-verbal signs, there are also cultural features that can impact a smooth communication. In some cultures, it’s extremely rude or even ‘violent’ to interrupt a colleague while they are talking. In others, to interrupt somebody in a meeting is not encouraged, but widely accepted.

Marshall Bertram Rosenberg was an American psychologist, author and teacher who developed non-violent communication (NVC) in the early 1960s. In the context of project teams, NVC principles can be beneficial for constructive dialogues, promoting harmony and effective communication among project team members. The NVC is more an approach to enhanced communication, a way that aims to increase empathy and understanding to improve the overall quality of life. For Rosenberg, it was a process for resolving conflict within people, relationships, and society.

There are a few components to take into account if we want to have a non-violent and smooth communication:

Show Empathy*

*the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation – dictionary.cambridge.org

*the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another – merriam-webster.com

The definition already says it. Listening with empathy, seeking to understand the feelings and needs underlying others’ words, can lead to better understanding of team members’ perspectives and motivations behind a certain speech or action. We tend to be more empathic with somebody when we have experienced the same situation or have a family member or friend dealing with the same issue. However, we should make an effort to show empathy even if we can’t relate from our own experience.

Accept and Defend Emotions

Keeping it professional and factual and at the same time acknowledge emotions without taking things personal is a challenge. But it’s worth a try. During the pandemic, as we were all struggling with an extremely unusual situation and we were not allowed to meet in person, we were often more open to show our emotions. Taking a more personal approach, even if we are talking with the team members about something project related, is another step towards a smooth communication.

Create Trust

Listening carefully is crucial in order to create trust within the team. Active listening means paying attention to what the other person is saying, understanding their message, remembering what is being said and responding appropriately. We should encourage active listening among team members, as it fosters empathy, understanding, and trust.

Offer Clarity

Being transparent as well as leaving minimal room for interpretation is also important for creating trust within the team. This requires clarity and precision in language use. Ambiguity or vagueness can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication. Choosing the right words and structuring sentences clearly helps ensure that messages are conveyed accurately.

Another aspect to clarity is to sometime slow down the conversation. If you do not understand something, ask if they could repeat their point in a different way. Or, repeat what you understood and ask if that understanding was correct.

We could add here more components for a smooth communication as communication is a skill that can be developed and refined over time. But we think these are the key aspects of communication with and within project teams that would ensure that everyone can communicate and collaborate efficiently.

We believe that continuous learning and practice are key to improving communication skills and becoming a more smooth communicator.